A presentation of the Nigerian culture in relation to the notions of social capital, social competence and cultural representations and the possibility if using forums to foster intercultural exchange.
Nigeria is a country of a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural composition. It is made up of about 250 different ethnic groups, speaking languages completely different and distant, one from another. Over the years, the experience of Nigeria as a country has been inundated with conflicts and divisions based mainly on ethnocultural lines. In recent years, religious conflicts between Christians and Moslems have contributed in pouring oil on the already burning fire. Apart from religious fanaticism, experienced in the Moslem dominated northern Nigeria, the ethnocultural differences and prejudices are at the base of these Moslem-Christian conflicts.
But above all, the “ignorance of the other” and a fortiori, the lack of appreciation of our rich cultural heritage contribute, in no small measure in the escalation of the quasi-indomitable Nigerian crisis. This ignorance, which without mincing words we underline as “crass”, shows up its ugly head in all spheres of the Nigerian society: political, economic, religious, academic, etc. It is our intention in our project to proffer practical means of making first steps into the resolution of these conflicts. In all, we would like to inspire in people the desire to know the other.
We would like to engineer in the people the conviction that every ethnocultural group in Nigeria, even those wrongly, if not pejoratively termed, “the minorities”, part of our cultural heritage as a people. Each of these could be harnessed for the development and upward thrust of Nigeria as a country.
2. MODULE 2 OF MIC AND OUR PROJECT
From Module 2 of MIC, I would like to underline the following points and relate them to our project:
- Social Capital
- Social Competence
- System of Representations
2.1 Social Capital
Nigerians generally believe in the social capital of a person, that is, how much network one has. However, we must admit that these networks are much more emphasised in the politico-economic sector. In this sector, the social capital is recurred to extensively but often negatively and even to the detriment of the progress of the Nigerian society. This ardent desire to create around oneself networks has generated syndromes which are encapsulated in expressions like:
- IM (Ima mmadu, to know somebody)
- IMA (Ima mmadu amaka, to know somebody is good)
- IOMM (Ima onye ma mmadu, to know somebody who knows somebody)
- IOMMA ( Ima onye ma mmadu amaka, to know somebody who knows somebody is good)
These syndromes, coupled with that of “sons of the soil” (Ndi nwe obodo; literally, those who own the land), have greatly influenced the mentality of average Nigerian, culminating in corruption and favouritism in the politico-economic spheres of the Nigerian society. This has in no small measure jeopardised the internal development and progress of the country and her international reputation.
We would like efforts in creating networks to be turned to the cultural sector. One could then count not only on how strong are one’s politico-economic networks but also how extensive and strong ones’ “cultural know-how”, with regard to the about 250 ethnic groups that make up Nigeria. It is lamentable that an average Nigerian knows only his own local language, has friends only in his own ethnic group, can say something meaningful only concerning his own cultural milieu. He is very much hindered to expand his social capital because much of what he “knows” of the other ethnic groups are “socio-cultural labels” imposed on them, by past experiences of contacts or conflicts. The labels or prejudices are even acquired in the course of the basic cultural education imparted to children by the parents and the immediate local community.
We intend in our project to “destabilise” the foundations of these prejudices, which we among others is inadequate information concerning the other. We would also suggest how one can go about changing this mentality that generated these prejudices. We would offer opportunities for people from all the ethnic groups to recognise and appreciate the fundamental differences in ways of life, thoughts feelings and world-view. Harnessing and putting together all these cultural realities on the table of frank exchange and dialogue, would encourage people to extend and expand their social capital to embrace as many ethnic groups as possible. This, in turn, would foster more harmony and understanding and hence more stability for the country.
2.2 Social Competence
From what we have said above, one could but expect that the evaluation of the social competence among Nigerians is much more based on ethnocultural considerations. Except for the Igbo, who of the rest, are widely travelled, people from other ethnic groups are so much attached to their cultural milieu, that they find it hard to migrate even to the other parts of the country. It is very easy to find an Igbo who speaks fluently Hausa and/or Yoruba and not vice versa. Many of other ethnic groups live in their respective “worlds” and know only by “hearsay” of the existence of other ethnic groups. This has provoked the unhealthy quota system in partitioning national tasks. Appointments are often made not really based on competence (and all it entails), but on ethnocultural origin. The reason generally advanced for this is that that would make every ethnic group feel a sense of belonging in the country.
The intention, in our opinion, is genuine and laudable, but more often than not this has culminated in allotting national tasks to incompetent persons, just because it is the turn of their ethnic groups to hold such office. This phenomenon has resulted in unimaginable level of the brain drain of Nigerian elites, who because their competence is not recognised or even stifled, resort to seeking to offer their services in Europe and America and even in some other African countries.
In our project, this issue would be addressed. We would like to create a forum for political, social and cultural debates for who would be appointed to certain national, state and local government offices. Competence of individuals, no matter their cultural or ethnic provenance. This will go a long way in enhancing the proper integration of all Nigerians in all parts of Nigeria.
2.3 System of Representations
The above move in our project to enhance a positive evaluation of social competence of all Nigerians, irrespective of their ethnic origin, would then influence the system of representations, which up to now, hold sway in the mentality of an average Nigerian. This system of representations in question is totally imbued with prejudices, fear of the other, and “strict cultural security measures”. The consequences of this are double-edged:
- the judgement an ethnic group makes of itself in relation to the others and
- the judgement makes on others in relation to itself.
Let us give an example: Right from childhood, I started hearing that some members of some ethnic groups are intrinsically wicked, some are unpalatable cowards, some are “naturally” very pompous, etc. These judgements, I must admit, have always influenced my mental representations of people from this or that ethnic group.
Most often it is very difficult to realise that one’s image of the others is highly coloured by judgements one has heard made on others. Such images are, to say the least, truncated ab initio and, a fortiori, judgements which derive from them cannot but be far from being objective. And to say the least, this has greatly marred the relationship among the different ethnic groups.
In our project, we would like to let the different ethnic features speak for themselves. By organizing forums of intercultural formation, information and exchange, across the country, we could inspire in the people the desire to “uncover” their prejudices, “discover” the other and thus “recover” the right system of representation, which will in the long run offer judgements that are both objective and realistic.
What we have described above could be related to all spheres of the Nigerian society. These constitute, however, the major intercultural problems that call for the major intercultural problems that call for urgent attention. The project we intend to formulate hopes to address these issues and proffer possible steps to be taken for the amelioration of intercultural communication in the multiethnic Nigerian society.